I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Glenmere Publishing on March 29th, 2012
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Maggie Bradstreet is a curious girl of thirteen with a mind of her own, which can get her into trouble in Puritan New England. She wants nothing more than to prove to her brother's friend Job that she is no longer a child, but when witches are discovered in their community of Andover, Massachusetts, her world turns upside down. Maggie's diary tells of excitement turned to horror as more and more people are accused of witchcraft, and her best friend's mother is taken off to jail. She tries to save her friends and in the end must save herself. The Book of Maggie Bradstreet, a multigenerational account that chronicles a romance and adventure during a fascinating period in US history, is biographical fiction based on historical records about the author's ancestors. Like others in Colonial Andover, Margaret Bradstreet witnessed firsthand the bullying, touch test trials, and arrests of her friends and neighbors. Readers will find the untold and remarkable story of what happened in Colonial Andover as riveting as literary classics that portray the well-known Salem witch trials. Includes a map and afterword with additional historical content
The Book of Maggie Bradstreet screams ‘Young Adult fiction’ – and that is not a compliment.
The book is written from an interesting and new perspective on the retelling of the Salem (and surrounding area) witch trials in the 1690s by constructing the tale in a series of personal diary entries. The diary’s author, young Maggie Bradstreet, is the daughter of a well to do and influential family in the community of Andover, who comes face to face with the horrors of witch hysteria when suspicion and fear overrun town order. At first, Maggie recapitulates the first incidents of arrests and accusations with mundane emotional distance, but as those closest to her fall victim to pointing fingers, Maggie is confronted with the reality that her world may never be the same again.
Unfortunately, the Book of Maggie Bradstreet is an accurate representation of the the weaknesses that hold down Young Adult historical fiction. The material of the Salem witch hunts is fascinating, but is treated somewhat hamfistedly to almost deflate the importance or the intrigue of this moment of historical insanity. Constructing the tale within a diary opened a world of possibility for reflection, fear, and insight – yet these components were haphazardly included, second to less important musings.
With respect to the fact that the author drew on legitimate primary source materials, referencing true life figures from whom she is descended, I found the characters to be flat, and dull – another serious problem with YA. For a character praised for being clever, Maggie is incredibly simple minded, and it is extremely difficult to connect to a young girl whose internal dialogue could be summarized as “witches are being hanged, but why doesn’t that boy pay attention to me?” While others struggle to clear their family names, Maggie is concerned with the vibrancy of her dress fabrics, and other completely mindless fancies. Admittedly, she is supposed to be on the cusp between preadolescence and young womanhood, yet for that reason I would expect more intelligent thoughts and concerns. This need to inject romance into an environment that should be founded on fear, is needless, and frustrating beyond words. Additionally, as our only objective view at the other characters is through Maggie’s lens, no one else can supplement her stale reverie with greater depth. The only character who seems to have any substance is Polly, Maggie’s poor friend, who when arrested on suspicion of witchcraft, develops a sense of class resentment against her friend — and even that is a moment in passing.
For a very brief read, perhaps the essentialization of extremely complex issues was intended to drive the story, but overall, the Book of Maggie Bradstreet could have earned benefit had it expected a little more from its readers by offering elegance, introspection, and less banality.